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Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Epiphany of the Lord

January 2, 2011

Epiphany marks a pivotal event in the consciousness of Jews who followed the way of Jesus. Epiphany is the moment when God's plan of salvation was revealed to the Gentiles to signal their inclusion and welcome. God's plan is available to anyone who would like to receive it. From our Scriptures, we notice that obstacles and dangers line our journey.

In Matthew's Gospel, the magi come from the East to behold the newborn. Some call them astrologers, wise men, or kings. Their significance is as highly regarded Gentiles who recognize that God is revealing God's own self to a foreign people who were otherwise excluded by Jewish scripture and customs. They adore the infant and present him with gifts befitting a king. Scripture is being fulfilled as all nations come to worship the God of Israel. The magi, a symbolic representation of the Gentile people, recognize the one true king of the universe and come to realize Herod, the false king, has destructive intentions.

While the magi's journey is storybook in character, its retelling over the generations has lost its unsettling edge. In the first century, tensions arose in Christianity over Gentile converts to the faith. Every group sets its own policies on admission and exclusion. The Jews were horrified that Gentiles wanted to worship Jesus and adopt their customs and laws. The Gentiles seemed barbaric and uncouth in their behavior to adopt Jewish practices. The Jews feared their faith would become diluted with distorted interpretations. It was not easy for Christian Jews to offer warm, friendly hospitality.

These Jews suddenly had to realize the meaning that their Scriptures were being fulfilled. Isaiah calls Israel to rejoice because all the nations will walk by God's light and all peoples will come from afar to be gathered in holy Jerusalem. Paul in Ephesians tells us God's revelation is a mystery and that the Spirit is revealing God to the Gentiles through the apostles and prophets. He asserts that the Gentiles are coheirs in the promise and members of the same body of Christ.

This feast reminds us that we are to constantly interpret our Scriptures in light of our life experiences. We are to search for what God is revealing to us today. Scripture is a story of God's steadfastness towards us. It contains many stories that we relate to because Scripture is alive for us and contains deeper meaning.

We have our own struggles with hospitality and inclusion. Some in the church want to make it smaller with a purer, more faithful group of believers who rigidly adhere to curial teachings. Hospitality becomes a key virtue of God's mercy. Conservatives and progressives are to recognize that each finds God manifested in different ways. Those who made difficult life-changing decisions that cause them to risk rejection from a church they call home need a welcoming gesture. Women, gays, straights, and anyone else along the gender/orientation spectrum will benefit from inclusion and listening to each other's stories of God's revelation to them. Christians in different lands who are persecuted need to know they have a larger community of faith supporting them in prayer and with financial assistance. People from other races, immigrants, those from differing classes and economic background will do well to pause and consider what they need from others to be welcomed. The list goes on.

God's presence is manifested through love. We struggle like the Jews of old to realize God is present to others and is revealing God's self in meaningful ways. Let's extend a hand of hospitality to our unlikely brothers and sisters so they know we honor and respect God's revelation to them.

Quote for the Week

From verse 3 of "As with Gladness Men of Old" for Epiphany:

As they offered gifts most rare at that manger crude and bare; So may we this holy day, drawn to you without delay, All our costliest treasures bring, Christ, to you, our heavenly king.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: John's first letter continues by asking the faithful ones to test the spirits to find out whether a person really belongs to God or to one of the many false prophets. The way we know whether someone is of God is shown through the love we have for one another. If our love mirrors God's, the person belongs to God. If we love one another, God remains in us. We are to have integrity with our actions. We can't profess that we have love and then act contrary to our brothers and sisters. Believing in God means believing in God's Son. Three witnesses will testify to this: the Spirit, the water, and the blood. We are to possess these things in order to profess our faith in God. We can have confidence that God hears us. God hears us in regard to everything we ask as we belong to God.

Gospel: After John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus left Nazareth to begin his preaching on the Kingdom of heaven. He taught in all the synagogues and cured people of every disease and illness. Jesus felt compassion on the people who gathered to listen to him. Since they had come from great distances, he made them sit down so he could feed them as a good shepherd cares of his flock. After they had eaten, Jesus departs by boat to the other side of the lake with his disciples. He showed his disciples his mastery over the natural world as he walked on the water. News about Jesus spread through Galilee. He went to the synagogue, chose a reading from Isaiah, and declared in their hearing of the passage, Scripture has been fulfilled. He then cures a man of leprosy showing that he is speaking authoritatively for God's will and following the law of Moses. As his fame spread, the crowds wondered who they are to follow: the Baptist or Jesus. Jesus submits to baptism and John declares that he himself is not the anointed one. Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ of God and he is to increase while John decreases.

Saints of the Week

Monday: The Holy Name of Jesus falls on a Christmas weekday. It marks the giving of the name of Jesus to the infant boy of Mary and Joseph and the day of circumcision. The name "Jesus" means "God Saves." Jesuits celebrate January 1st in commemoration of the naming of Jesus as our titular feast day.

Tuesday: Elizabeth Ann Seton, religious, (1774-1821) was originally an Episcopalian who was married to a wealthy merchant. After her husband's death, she converted to Catholicism and founded a girl's school. She later set up the Sisters of Charity, which was the first active group of women religious in the U.S.

Wednesday: John Neumann, (1811-1860), was a missionary to the U.S. within the Redemptorist Order. He settled in Pittsburgh and was named bishop of Philadelphia. He built many churches and Catholic schools. His educational model served as the model for parishes across the U.S.

Thursday: Andre Bessette, religious, (1845-1937) was canonized in October 2010. He established Notre Dame College in Montreal, Canada and established St. Joseph's Oratory. This basilica is visited by many pilgrims for cures and healings because of Bessette's reputation for working miracles.

Friday: Raymond of Penafort, priest, (1175-1275) was a Catalonian who taught philosophy and law. He preached to Moors and Christians as part of his Dominican ministry. He organized papal degrees into a form of canon law and he set guidelines for the penance. He became the Master of the Dominican Order.

This Week in Jesuit History

• Jan. 2, 1619: At Rome, John Berchmans and Bartholomew Penneman, his companion scholastic from Belgium, entered the Roman College.
• Jan. 3, 1816: Fr. General Brzozowski and 25 members of the Society, guarded by soldiers, left St. Petersburg, Russia, having been banished by the civil government.
• Jan. 4, 1619: The English mission is raised to the status of a province.
• Jan. 5, 1548: Francis Suarez, one of the greatest theologians of the church, was born at Granada.
• Jan. 6, 1829: Publication of Pope Leo XII's rescript, declaring the Society to be canonically restored in England.
• Jan. 7, 1566: Cardinal Ghislieri was elected pope as Pius V. He was a great friend of the Francis Borgia and appointed Salmeron and Toletus as apostolic preachers at the Vatican. He desired to impose the office of choir on the Society and even ordered it. He was canonized as St. Pius V.
• Jan. 8, 1601: Balthazar Gracian was born. A Spanish Jesuit, he wrote on courtly matters. He is the author of The Compleat Gentleman and The Art of Worldly Wisdom.

An Abbreviated Christmas Season

The Christmas season was especially short this year. The Feast of the Holy Family fell the day after Christmas Day, which means that Epiphany fell on the Second Sunday of Christmas. Therefore, the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas was not observed fully. We are in an 'in between' time. The days of this week are called the days after Epiphany, which lasts to next Sunday's feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which ushers in Ordinary Time.

Ordinary Time begins on January 10th and continues for nine weeks until Ash Wednesday on March 9th. Lent begins late and Easter Sunday in April 24th.

1 comment:

  1. Some great comments on Sunday's readings from the Saints:

    "Let us imitate the magi. Thou seest him not now in the crib, but on the altar; not a woman holding him, but the priest present, and the Holy Ghost poured out abundantly upon the sacrifice."
    -- St. John Chrysostom (c. A.D. 400)

    "What were these Magi but the first fruits of the Gentiles? Israelite shepherds, gentile Magians, one from near, the other from afar, hastened to the one Cornerstone."
    -- St. Augustine

    "Jesus then was manifested neither to the learned nor the righteous; for ignorance belonged to the shepherds, impiety to the idolatrous Magi. Yet does that Cornerstone attract them both to Itself, seeing He came to choose the foolish things of this world to confound the wise, and not to call the righteous, but sinners; that nothing great should exalt himself, none weak should despair."
    -- St. Augustine

    Happy New Year to all,